Last week, I facilitated the last session of a Traumatic Birth Support Group that started in November. For six sessions, I had the great privilege of meeting with five women to process births that left them feeling sad, angry, confused, scared, resentful, traumatized, and isolated. I hoped to provide an opportunity, for women who experienced traumatic births, to sit across the table from other women who had similar feelings, and similar about their births. This opportunity would hopefully offer a sense of validation. With validation we can find strength and peace.
As a group we discussed coping mechanisms, the impacts of trauma on the brain and the body, how to recognize triggers and what to do when they happen. There were “a-ha!” moments for each of the women, and there were lots and lots of tears.
Its worth mentioning though, these women taught me far more than I could have ever taught them.
- They taught me how important validation really is. The first time it happened, when one mom mentioned feeling like a “failure” because she delivered surgically instead of vaginally as planned, I saw faces light up around the room. It happened next that one woman said “I don’t feel like I gave birth at all” and then another agreement, and another. It seems irreverent perhaps to say that those were magical moments, but they were. The sadness behind the statements made was palpable, but there was joy too. Joy that she wasn’t actually the only person in the world that felt that way, used those words, or cried those tears.
- They taught me, that if you give a woman a safe, judgment free space to tell her story, she’ll tell it unabashedly, and she’ll feel it fully. The more comfortable the group became with each other, the more honest they became. Details that were once unspoken emerged triumphantly to claim their rightful place in the stories. Questions earned answers. Healing happened before my eyes.
- I learned, despite having read it countless times, and practicing it with my clients, that allowing a person to define their own trauma without judgment or criticism is paramount to their healing from it. Knowing that regardless of the situations of their births, there was no scale, no statements of “ Yours wasn’t as bad as mine, so you don’t get to be as sad as me.” They supported each other and lifted each other up. These women were brilliant teachers indeed.
This group provided an hour every other week, where these women would never hear “you have a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters.” They showed me and each other their fear, their sadness, their anger. They gave each other the gifts of no-judgment and unconditional security. They explored feelings together that might have otherwise festered for a lifetime, and watching it was one of the richest experiences of my professional life.
Here’s what one of the group members said about her experience:
In the first months after my daughter was born, when I really needed sleep, I would lie awake replaying the days around her birth, trying to understand why everything had gone awry. That disappointment was always with me. Couples therapy and antidepressants weren’t cutting it, and I was sure this group couldn’t help, either. I am grateful and relieved beyond measure that I was wrong. The framework and bottomless empathy provided by Beth Shelton gave me the safe space to share my grief with sweet, strong mamas who were brave enough to bare their souls, too. I’m indebted to all of them for the healthy head-space I’ve found.
Another mom said this:
The group was wonderful. It was so powerful to hear other mothers sharing their stories, hearing their pain, and frustrations, and shame, and knowing that they GOT IT. That I was not the only one having these feelings about what was supposed to have been one of the happiest days of my life. I think one of the things that was most healing for me was times when one of the other ladies would say something along the lines of that they failed, that their baby had been in danger, or they were angry at the lack of care and support they received- all thoughts I have had myself many times. But then to be able to say completely genuinely that they did everything they could, that they were right to be angry or sad- it was easier for me to hear those truths for myself when I was saying them to someone else.
For the last session the group participated in one of my favorite therapeutic exercises. I’ll spare the details, but I will say that it involves water balloons. As it ended, I watched these women, who several weeks before had been strangers to each other, embrace like old friends. Their journeys aren’t over, but they have a clearer path to healing than they did before. I am honored to have been part of their journey, and that they trusted me to guide them, even if for just a little bit, along the way.
I’m starting another 6-session group in March of this year and plan to run at least two more this year. If you’re interested in having a safe, judgment free place to process your birth with other women, contact me.